Archive for August, 2013

Going back to basics has taken on a new meaning in Germany’s metropolitan cities.

800px-Chaticky_KrejcarekMany people struggle to consolidate their desire for healthy and fresh ingredients with their food budgets. In the ‘olden days’ a lot of people tended an allotment garden which provided the family with the extra greens and fruits they couldn’t afford otherwise.

Taking ownership of our health and environment

But it is not only economic reasons that drive people from all walks of live to join the ‘urban gardening’ movement. They ask questions like “Where do my veggies come from?”, “How do I grow food from seed and how can I get my own seeds?” and rather more political questions of who owns the city and decides over its use.

Raising awareness and strategies

As the population of the cities increases, space becomes more and more a valuable commodity and commercial interest prevail. New buildings are popping up everywhere and concerned citizens have taken to guerilla garden tactics to add a little colour to the grey concrete. One group of keen gardeners has gone further and runs a mobile urban garden on a disused park-deck in the middle of Hamburg’s infamous red light district. Right behind the music club where the Beatles started their career, a bunch of green activists have created a temporary urban garden until the city has decided the future use of this sought after piece of real estate. Until then a variety of more than 100 different edible plants are growing in bright orange plastic boxes, so called bakers’ boxes as they are usually used for transporting baking goods. These boxes sit on euro pallets which allows them to be easily moved by forklifts should the city decide on a more ‘useful’ purpose for the land.

Ground breakers!

photo(1)The ‘Gartendeck Sankt Pauli‘ initiative is now in its third season as a temporary garden and is starting to become a landmark for a different urban life style. The garden is open to the public and anyone can participate, help garden and harvest, cook and relax. This initiative was founded in 2011 with the help and advice from a like-minded group from Berlin, the prinzessinnengarten.  All of these initiatives rely heavily on support from the public and if you’d like to show your support by paying them a visit, let us know and we will do our best to arrange for a visit during your stay in Hamburg.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Hamburg Nights!

Storm_in_Hamburg_posterAs some may know, The Beatles had their big break in Hamburg in the early 60’s.  Despite their ominous beginnings (being told they were not the promoter’s favourite kind of music, breaking their contract by playing at other clubs, being deported for being under-age and setting fire to a condom thus being arrested for arson) they managed to play for an extended time in a range of clubs in Hamburg until they were finally ‘discovered’ by Brian Epstein in November 1961.  The rest is history!

You name it, they’re playing it!

The rich cultural heritage established in the 18th century continues to thrive in modern Hamburg. On any given day of the week you will find a huge selection of visual and audio extravaganzas to tickle your entertainment nerves. The schedule for September for example is filled with organ and violin concerts, international and national rock and pop gigs and a 360° lightshow dedicated to Queen! And that is just on the two nights our first Cosmopolitan North tour will be staying in Hamburg.

Keen? Contact us!

If you’d be interested to find out more about these activities and artists, contact us and we will do our best to help you. Please be aware as these are outside of the Sidetracks activities, payment for tickets would have to be arranged beforehand, unless you’re happy to try your luck on the day.

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During your tour around northern Germany you will get to enjoy lots of dishes influenced by the proximity of the sea: endless dishes with shrimps, herrings and regional vegetables like beetroot and gherkins. As with all regional dishes, they will vary according to seasonal availability of ingredients and cooking/taste preferences of the chefs.

Today’s special is Labskaus!LabskausBC

It originated around the 18th century in the coastal regions of Germany and around Liverpool and was a staple diet for seafaring people. It consisted mainly of salted meats, beef or pork, and a range of boiled vegetables. As most of the sailors suffered more or less severe cases of scurvy, the food was cooked to a baby mush, which also helped to disguise the fact that most of the vegetables were past their best-before date!

As these sailors had to get back to land once in a while, they took their favourite foods with them and this particular dish quickly became a staple for landlubbers as well.

Nowadays you can rest assured that the restaurants will prepare the meal with the freshest ingredients available and serve them either hot with fried eggs, herrings, gherkins and beetroot or cold, on slices of fresh German bread.

Give it a try!

The basic recipe requires corned beef, fried with onions in a bit of lard, some water and mashed potatoes mixed in when it’s all mushy. Then serve with eggs (for a lighter version you can use poached eggs) and other side dishes like gherkins, pickled beetroot and rollmops. Most supermarkets in urban New Zealand sell Rollmops in their deli section so you can go ahead and try this one out before you go!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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North German Potato Salad

Travel the world and wherever you go you will find potato salad. Nowadays it is a classic side dish at any barbecue or garden party all over the world. Easily prepared in advance, it makes for a hearty and filling addition to the menu.

It’s Everywhere and lots of it too!

Potatoes have been a staple part of the poor man’s diet for as long as they have been known to mankind. And what happens if you get too much of something too often? You modify it.

Hot, cold, spicy, heavy with mayo, light with vinegar dressing, with lots of other ingredients or just potatoes. Every country, region and family has THEIR own special recipe and you’d be hard pressed to say which one is the TRUE ORIGINAL one!

During your travels throughout Germany you will find plenty of opportunities to sample the regional versions, but it might pay to ask your tour guides for help to find out what precisely the regional differences are. Some restaurants might opt to serve the ‘classic’ German version, cold with mayonnaise, gherkins and onions, while others serve the family recipe one. Either way, it’s a great hearty food to eat while enjoying the local beverages!

If you’d like to get in the mood, in preparation for your travels or just for the love of food, here is a recipe to get you started.

A northern variety which is usually made with mayonnaise, but can be made with yoghurt too, if a lower fat version is required.  This recipe is for 4 persons.



1kg medium to small potatoes

4 hard boiled eggs

4 cloves of garlic

1 medium sized onion

50g ham

1 tbsp oil

4 large gherkins

100ml beef stock

1 tbsp gherkin brine

1tsp Dijon mustard

500g mayonnaise/ yoghurt, or a mix of both

Salt and pepper to taste



Clean and boil potatoes in salted water until soft (20-30 minutes), drain and cool (this should be done the day before, but can be done first thing on the day. The colder the potatoes are the cleaner the slices will cut).

Boil eggs carefully for 8 mins, shock under cold water and let cool

Peel and mince/cube finely the onion, garlic, gherkins, ham and eggs (once they’re cold)

Peel cooled potatoes and slice into 5mm thick slices

Heat oil in a pan and soften onion and ham, when done add garlic.

Add stock and mustard and when combined take off the heat to cool down.

In a large bowl combine stock, mayonnaise, gherkin brine and the gherkins and gently fold under the egg cubes.

Fold in the potato slices, add salt and pepper to taste and let marinate for  at least 30 minutes.

Serve with your favourite sausages or steaks and a green salad!

To be continued!

If you have any questions regarding this recipe, please contact us and we will do our best to help.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Tübingen – Stocherkähne – Punts

1280px-StocherkahnNadeloehr GeneralWhen exactly punting became an established mode of transport in Tübingen is not documented, but it certainly gained more popularity after the river Neckar was becalmed by a series of weirs. Up until 1899 forestry and trade used the river to transport logs and wares on rafts, but continued floods and strong currents made it too hazardous. At this stage punts were mainly used by the local fishermen.  After that, as rafts couldn’t navigate the weirs, that tradition died out and a new one started: punting along the quiet river. Initially fraternities in Tübingen bought the rights to have a boat on the river and later on, as the popularity increased, companies, institutes and private businesses bought rights as well, enabling the general public to enjoy a view of their city from the water. The purchase of these rights is limited, to control the amount of punts on the river for safety and quality reasons. Very quickly the fraternities started competitive races and the annual Stocherkahnrennen  around the Neckarinsel, “island in the Neckar”, was established on the day of the Feast of Corpus Christi in May or June.

HölderlinturmTübingenThe punts are not to be confused with the ones used in Cambridge or Oxford: the Tübingen ones are considerably longer and skinnier, which makes them harder to navigate and the chances of having a wet trip more likely, which was all in the spirit of having a splashing good time when the students started it.

Your punting trip in Tübingen with the Alpine Gems tour will give you an opportunity to view some of the fraternity ‘houses’ or rather mansions built along the rivers’ edge and enjoy the balmy evenings in southern Germany.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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1280px-Tübingen_-_view_from_castle_Hohentübingen_(aka)This particularly picturesque city has managed to combine the traditions of old with a modern lifestyle to create one of the most liveable cities in Germany. In fact, in 1999, admittedly a while ago, it was voted the city with the highest standard of living in Germany. And whether for good or bad, not much has changed since then. In general, of course.

The region had been populated since Magdalenian times, approximately 12,000 BC and in 1078 Castle Hohentübingen is first mentioned.1280px-TuebingenSchlossWest

The city itself finds its way into official records around 1191 and in 1231 gained civitas rights.The name’s ending -ingen is in reference to the Alemanni tribes which settled in this region in the 5th century. During your travels around the region you will find lots of other places with this particular ending to their name.

1280px-TuebingenMarktplatz1Throughout the centuries Tübingen has accommodated a mix of people and industries, never specializing in one. It meant only moderate incomes for most, but sustainable living for everyone. In the 14th and 15th centuries lots of monasteries, collegiates and universities were founded, which established the city as one of the most influential places of learning in the Holy Roman Empire.

The influx in students meant another source income and even today they are the biggest income for the city.1280px-Tuebingen_Rathaus

Students and academics used to reside around the Alte Aula and the Burse, the old university buildings. There, hanging on the Cottahaus a sign commemorates Goethe’s stay of a few weeks while visiting his publisher. The German tendency to memorialize every minor presence of its historical greats (like: “Washington slept here” in the United States) is parodied on the building next door. This simple building, once a dormitory, features a plain sign with the words “Hier kotzte Goethe” (“Goethe puked here”). Which shouldn’t put you off strolling around the little streets and alleys exploring the rich architectural history visible.

Your guide on this part of your Alpine Gems tour will give you more historical details and illustrate the care and attention to detail used in building the city.

   Germany_Tübingen_Statues Germany_Tübingen_St-George-and-Shutters

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Schmales-HausThe full panoramic view from the tippy top of the Minster gives you a good view of the restored historic parts of the city and the area that was destroyed during an allied bombing in WWII which covered 80% of the historic part of the town. If you follow the link to the highest resolution photo, you can see in the first third on the right, near an orange building crane, the narrowest building.

Nearby is the most crooked one, which is now a hotel. They have installed levels at the beds to assure the guests that they are indeed sleeping in the horizontal!

1280px-Schiefes_Haus_und_Ulmer_Münz_Ulm_FischerviertelThese are all part of the restored Fishermen’s and Tanner’s Quarters. Ulm became a production centre for high-quality textiles and as part of the booming trade in the 13th and 14th century tanneries and dyers established themselves near the river. As these buildings have been restored and enjoying a new lease of life, the modern fishermen’s quarters will not attack your senses like the medieval ones and give you an opportunity to wander amongst history on dry clean feet.

Fischerviertel_UlmSince medieval times a lot has changed and the city’s industry is keeping abreast changes by moving toward developing other industries like bio-medicine, engineering and high-tech industry. The diversification means companies like Gardenia (garden products), Britax (child safety products), Carl Walther (fire arms), J.G.Anschütz (fire arms) and ratiopharm (pharmaceuticals) now have their headquarters in Ulm.

A leisurely stroll through the Altstadt on your Alpine Gems tour will provide a change of scenery and set the tone for the next couple of days.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Ulmer_Münster-WestfassadeThe city of Ulm has a rich history dating as far back as 5000 BC and is situated at the confluence of the Blau and Iller rivers into the Danube. Despite its altitude of 479m above sea level, the three rivers have created the environment for an extensive fishing and tanning industry, with parts of the city resembling a coastal town with all the watery channels and waterways rushing around the houses. Ulm is mainly known for the Minster, with the highest steeple in the world and as Albert Einstein’s birthplace.

Historically Ulm was situated at the crossroads of important trade routes and blossomed accordingly. The confidence and prosperity was reflected in new and opulent buildings and the conception of a Minster within the city walls in the 14th century. To give you an idea how 768px-Ulm-Muenster-BlickZurEmpore-061104confident the citizens were: even though the city of Ulm at that time had less than 10,000 inhabitants, the Minster was designed to accommodate up to 22,000! In 1377 the foundation stone was laid and it was consecrated in 1405.

But the architectural dreams proved too much for the technology of the time and major structural damage necessitated a reconstruction. In 1543 construction stopped due to economic, political and religious problems. It took nearly three centuries for the economic and political scene to stabilize and construction was resumed in 1817. Groessenvergleich_UL-K-M-B-ACIn May 1890 it was finally completed. As you will have a chance to view other cathedrals on the Alpine Gems and other tours, here’s a comparison chart between the Ulm Minster with the Cologne cathedral, the Frauenkirche in Munich and the cathedral in Aachen.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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SONY DSCThe Nebelhorn (foghorn) is with its 2224 meters height the highest peak of the region and offers spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and ranges. The peak can be reached by foot, but it’s recommended only for trained climbers and with specialist equipment. The easier and much Nebelhorn-bahnmore picturesque way to get there is by using the gondola.

The map gives you an abstract idea of all the peaks to be seen during your trip up to the top, while the photos should get your feet itching to explore the region in person!

Once at the top, you will be able to explore the alpine flora and fauna along the trails on your day hike back down to the valley.

nh-pano-oleg-5-2011-20cm-4c131235As today’s trip on your Alpine Gems tour will have you tip-toeing around the mountains trying to take the best shot home, you better make sure you won’t go over the top!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens


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Breita4The Breitach Gorge is, alongside the Höllentalklamm, with an approximate depth of 150 meters the deepest gorge of the Bavarian Alps.

It was formed during the last glacial period which was approximately 24,000 – 10,000 years ago. Even though efforts had been made to make the gorge accessible, they were unsuccessful until the early 20th century, when Pastor Johannes Schiebel founded the Breitachklamm Association and found investors for the development of the region for tourism. He saw it as a chance for his impoverished parish to make a living. The first detonation was done on 25th July 1904 and exactly a year later the walkway was inaugurated. Since then up to 300.000 visitors annually come and experience the stunning and overwhelming natural beauty. In September 1995 a major rock fall dumped approximately 50,000 cubic meters of rock into the gorge, effectively damming the Breitach in parts up to 30 meters high.  In March the following year, during/after the spring melting, the dam broke and the water devastated the gorge and the walkway.

BreitachklammMarkierungBy December 2004 a new entrance building was established, which now houses interactive models, demonstrating the effect of water on rock! This excursion on your Alpine Gems tour will not only show you remarkable rock formations, but also give you the opportunity for a quiet swim in a secluded alpine lake.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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